Veterans of past flights aboard Air Force One with President Bush got good news and bad news Monday, as President Obama took the plane on his second cross-country jaunt for a town hall in Elkhart, Ind.
The good news: Unlike Bush, Obama and his staff gave reporters lots to do on the flight. Obama himself, in shirtsleeves, dipped into the press compartment to say hello, and chat about Camp David, where he spent the weekend shooting hoops and hitting golf balls. “You can see that in the summer it’s going to be a nice place,” the president said. Then came David Axelrod, the president’s top message guru, who tried to set the frame for understanding the day ahead. “You know, one thing that we learned over two years is that there is a whole different conversation in Washington than there is out here,” he said, as the plane flew about 30,000 feet over the Midwest. “If I had listened to the conversation in Washington during the campaign for president, I would have jumped off a building about a year and a half ago.” He pointed to polling data from Gallup that showed wide approval for how Obama has handled the stimulus, and disapproval for the way congressional Republicans have handled the bill.
“They are not into the machinations that folks in Washington are in,” he continued, speaking about either the American people or those who spend their time at 30,000 feet. “They are not sweating this detail or that detail. They certainly don’t buy into the arguments that, you know, the New Deal was a failure and we shouldn’t intervene.”
A few minutes later, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs came back, also in shirtsleeves with Secret Service-issued cufflinks. He again tried to frame the debate, saying the president is more concerned about getting something passed quickly than he is about the details of the roughly “10 percent” of the stimulus package on which the House and Senate still differ. When asked if he could give reporters a tour of Air Force One, he confessed that he would be a lousy tour guide, saying he still gets lost walking through the plane.
Which brings us to the bad news*: All the newsmaking activity in the press cabin left almost no down time, let alone a moment to eat lunch, which was, in this case, a ham and cheese sandwich, served with fresh fruit on plates embossed with the seal of the president.
We are in the motorcade now. The president’s town hall is scheduled to begin shortly after noon.